Why community businesses are a powerful force for good

By Vidhya Alakeson, Chief Executive of Power to Change.

Last month we awarded our first half a million in grants to community businesses. We have a lot to learn yet about how to make our processes smooth but it was nevertheless a major milestone for a new funding organisation like us. As with the sector overall, the projects we have funded are hugely diverse from an indoor skate park to a local restaurant to affordable housing. What they do have in common, however, are the ingredients that we believe make community businesses powerful.

The Power to Change was established in response to the decline of high streets and the retreat of the public sector. By adopting a trading model that allows them to generate their own income, community businesses have the potential to become lasting features of their local communities regardless of changes in the wider environment. Take Bamford Community Society in the Peak District, one of our first grantees, as an example. The business started life as a pub. It has now grown to include a post office and a café and to become a hub for other local businesses and the community. We have funded Bamford to secure its long term viability by making their building more energy efficient which will significantly reduce their costs. We want to use our grant funding to support more community businesses to make progress towards long term viability.

Community control sits at the heart of community business. Control can come in the form of ownership but it can also be deep and ongoing engagement between a business and its local people. This can make the business itself more resilient to shocks and it is also a powerful engine of change. We believe that giving local people control can be transformative for the individuals themselves by allowing them to acquire skills, gain self-esteem and renewed hope for the future. In turn, it can also transform local places through greater civic pride and a sense of possibility.

SAFE Regeneration (Support Activities for Everyone) in Liverpool, another of our initial grantees, works with vulnerable adults in the local community to start creative businesses as well as providing activities for school and other local groups. We are funding SAFE to purchase a nearby pub which will give it more space to incubate new businesses as well as develop new income streams by converting the pub into a restaurant and B&B. By working with local people on the new development, including some of the artists it has incubated, SAFE intends to contribute not just to local employment but to creating a new sense of possibility in a deprived part of the city.

Over time, as we gain more experience and make more grants, we hope that the Power to Change research institute will play a leading role alongside partners to turn these wonderful examples into more robust evidence. Over time, we want to be in a position to demonstrate more definitively the potential that we see in those who we fund.